Pat Summitt: There Will Never Be Another

Pat Summitt: There Will Never Be Another
Pat Summitt's determination made her the winningest coach in NCAA history. She passed away five years after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia, at the age of 64

“One of the greatest ever. As a coach, competitor, colleague, mentor…Coach (Pat) Summitt defined greatness and set the bar for the rest of the sport. Thank you for the greatest games, the fiercest rivalry, and for the inspiration for success. Rest in Peace, Coach. 

Statement from UConn Huskies Coach Geno Auriemma, on the death of erstwhile rival Pat Summitt, at 64 

For 38 years, Pat Summitt  (1974-2012) roamed courtside at Tennessee, racking up 1,098 wins against only 208 losses for the Lady Vols. The first million-dollar women’s coach earned every penny. Consider eight national championships. 16 conference titles, coaching the likes of Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw, Glory Johnson, and 30 other future WNBA stars. In 1984, as coach of the Women’s Olympic Team, she and her players earned a gold medal.

But her most enduring legacy will be putting women’s college basketball on the nation’s sports map. When she began in 1974, Title IX was two years old. She was 22. There were no NCAA championships for women at the time (AIAW took care of women’s national championships until 1982). Her teams played to less than 100 people in the stands. Six players were on the court.

Everything that women’s NCAA basketball is today is because of Pat Summitt. The athleticism. The five-on-a-side. The aggression. The competitiveness. The crowds. The hopeful young women wanting to be the next Parker, or Tamika Catchings.

Every bit of respect the women’s game has now is because Pat Summitt was part of the game.

I am proud to say I met Pat Summitt twice while covering NCAA women’s basketball.

Each time was memorable for a different reason.

The first time I met her, she was benching her star player. On the road. In the player’s hometown. Where half  of the jam-packed crowd were cheering for the opposition.

It was January 2, 2008. The player in question was future back-to-back NCAA champion, #1 draft pick, and Naperville native Candace Parker, whose appearances in the Chicago area were infrequent at best–SEC-Big East matchups switch venues or are played during tournaments like the Maggie Dixon Classic.

The venue was DePaul’s McGrath-Phillips Arena. The game was a sellout.

Parker, making her final appearance in the Chicago area as a senior, was benched for the entire first half, potentially humiliating her in front of 60 friends and family members wearing Vols’ orange, including her mother, family, friends, and several thousand fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the Beyonce lookalike, and future “face” of the WNBA. Not to mention a picture and autograph that would surely be worth something.

Why was Parker sitting? She had violated her New Year’s Eve curfew, and Summitt lived up to her reputation as a no-nonsense, rule-abiding bulldog. Parker sat docily on the sidelines during the first half.

Summitt told ESPN and the Associated Press at the time that she was torn on not playing Parker.

 “I wanted to start her,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “With our rules we have to be consistent.”

Pat Summitt, who begat more WNBA stars and posted more wins than any other basketball coach, male or female in NCAA history (photo: TheHours)

Pat Summitt, begat more WNBA stars and posted more wins than any other basketball coach, male or female in NCAA history (photo: TheHours)

True to form, Summitt didn’t let any hoopla determine the lessons of what she wanted to teach her player–that everyone, regardless of position and potential, needed to play by the rules. HER rules.

Like her or not, Summit stood for uncompromising excellence. That’s what made her the winningest coach ever, men or women.

The last time I saw Pat, it was Round 1 of the 2012 NCAA Regional Championships, hosted by the Big East Conference at Allstate Arena.

This time, it was Pat Summitt sitting docily on the sidelines, while Holly Warlick, then her assistant coach, ran the team. Sometimes, she came into the huddle during timeouts.

Mostly, she played word games on her phone. That kept her mind sharp.

But it was devastating to those who had known her before her diagnosis, to watch her sit so quietly. Patricia Babcock McGraw, the Daily Herald columnist and I, talked about it as the tournament went on. “I’m guessing we’ll be hearing an announcement about her retirement pretty soon,” we said.

“You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’m capable of,”  Summitt told the doctors after her diagnosis.

Even in death, Pat Summitt’s life will continue to impact the lives of many others.

In her memory, donate in her memory to the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund. It is the hope of the Foundation to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia-related disorders. I urge that everyone who appreciates Pat Summitt’s contributions to the game , families of Alzheimer’s and dementia-related disorders, and all those who love women’s basketball gather together and donate to this cause.

Visit www.patsummitt.org to learn more about her life, legacy and commitment to finding a solution for Alzheimers Disease and related disorders.

I’ll close with this, a quote from a website that impacted my life as much as it has for everyone who ever met her. It comes from her website:

Patricia Sue Head Summitt ObituaryJune 14, 1952 – June 28, 2016

“You win in life with people.”

 

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